Protests may have been growing about Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border for some time, but Vladimir Putin seems unconcerned by the bad publicity.
In the House of Commons, Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford made the latest attempt to warn the Russian president off, saying: “Let us be very clear, we stand by Ukraine and we are considering an extension of purely defensive support to Ukraine to help Ukraine defend itself. Putin needs to de-escalate now and return to diplomatic channels.”
However, not all are convinced such tough talk is working. Conservative MP Bob Seely told MPs that “we may be weeks away from a major war in Eastern Europe”, while party colleague Bernard Jenkin MP also sought to issue a wake-up call: “When is the Government going to take on board the fact we are in a hybrid war against Russia now, and that there needs to be a comprehensive and united Western response whilst at the moment Nato is weak and divided?”
Meanwhile, China, a country that also laughably claims to be a democracy, was promising to take “resolute counter-measures” against the US over Washington’s planned diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and presumably also Scotland.
Like the Biden administration, the Scottish government will not be sending any government representatives to the Games because of ongoing concerns about human rights, such as accusations China has committed genocide over its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority; the suppression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; and fears for the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by a former senior politician.
China has also been engaging in some sabre-rattling of its own with warplanes repeatedly menacing Taiwan. Nine flew into Taiwan’s defence zone yesterday.
The world’s two biggest dictatorships are flexing their muscles to see how its democracies react and finding the right response will be vital.
Perhaps Scotland can do little, but a two-year extension of China’s ‘panda diplomacy’, which has seen two animals staying at Edinburgh Zoo in recent years, does provide an opportunity for a symbolic rebuff: sending them home early.